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Babri Masjid case closed for now – editorials

Twenty-eight years after a mob demolished the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town and sparked off a cycle of violence and riots across India that left thousands dead, a judgment was delivered on Wednesday. The special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court held that there was no prior conspiracy on December 6, 1992, and acquitted all 32 persons — including senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders LK Advani, MM Joshi, Uma Bharti, and Kalyan Singh — accused in the case. Judge SK Sharma pointed towards insufficient evidence and possible tampering of video and audio proof and blamed anti-social elements for the razing of the structure. Despite coming after nearly three decades, the judgment raises more questions than it answers.

The demolition of the mosque was preceded by months of political mobilisation across the country that whipped up sentiment. Multiple eyewitnesses and journalists have reported how mobs swelled around the disputed structure for days before the demolition, with the authorities doing little to disperse the crowd. Reports also underlined how the police stood by while groups of young men with pickaxes, shovels and ropes, scaled the domes of the fragile structure, with the intent of bringing it down. Even the Supreme Court, in its verdict last year that paved the way for the construction of the Ram temple, called the demolition a criminal act and awarded the Muslim parties five acres of land at an alternative site.

The CBI court verdict raises pertinent questions about the nature and quality of the probe. After years of investigation, CBI presented around 350 witnesses and 600 pieces of documents — but the verdict found that the tapes were tampered with and the documents could not be relied on. This is a further indictment of India’s creaky criminal justice system. The verdict points to anti-social elements who demolished the mosque, but there is no clarity on who they were and whether the probe agencies have any plan to identify and punish them. The conclusions also appear to contradict the findings of the 1992 Liberhan commission that blamed senior political leaders for the event.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a sombre moment. In many ways, Ayodhya and India have moved on. An impressive Ram temple is being constructed in Ayodhya and a mosque complex is coming up at an alternative site. But doubts about the criminal investigation, the lack of criminal and political accountability for those who brought the structure down and the precedent set are worrying. The case may be closed for now — pending an appeal — but it does not signal closure in this painful chapter of India’s history.

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